2018 Week 5: Government and Policy
For the past two weeks at the office I’ve been researching and summarizing the Kirwan Commission on Education. It took me several drafts to get it to where our legislative director deemed it acceptable, and that was a whole new thing for me. In the academic setting, I’ll usually do a draft before a submit a research paper, but that’s self-evaluated and then you edit and turn in the very next copy. And that’s it, and you get a grade from a professor with advanced knowledge on the subject and move on. That’s why I was getting frustrated with this report. When the research is for your job, the form in which you present information needs to be useable for professionals with limited experience in the field – a form that diverges substantially from the academic form. That mindset shift did not click for me right away, and I didn’t understand why I had to clarify things I thought to be obvious, like current funding formulas and why low-income districts perform worse on standardized tests. Eventually our legislative director took my third or fourth draft and just made an example format out of it, and then it clicked. All the information was the same it was just visually coherent and trimmed of jargon, and from now on I really will feel confident in my ability to conduct research in a professional setting. This is a skill I could only have learned outside of the classroom.
I’ve become more conscious of how accepting Baltimore is of diversity in every sense of the word. What I have seen most is the support and kindness in the Baltimore LGBTQ community because of the focus of my internship site, and even though the only contact I have with clients is opening the door, I still see how current clients bring in their friends to start their name changes and get the affirming legal services they need, and stay and support them the whole time. The solidarity in Baltimore’s LGBTQ community and the lack of judgment between anyone that I have seen has opened my eyes to the inherent kindness many Baltimoreans have for one another. Clients come in from all walks of life, and I admire the fact that none of my coworkers bat an eye no matter what the clients look like or need. There is never any question of using preferred pronouns or assuming that FreeState workers know more about the client or community’s needs than they do. Even though FreeState has a large budget and a well-furnished office, it has not lost its identity as a service organization, and its emphasis on affirming service and the intersectionality of the oppression that LGBTQ people experience in Baltimore and the rest of Maryland reassures me that even though I am not seeing a lot of the interpersonal work that FreeState does, I am still in touch with and serving Baltimore. Because of this, I’m happy with my placement because I am learning many marketable professional skills aside from working with people, and serving the community at the same time through my help to FreeState as a whole. So even though I might feel my service more on a personal, more selfish level if I could make eye contact with and speak to the people I am serving, I recognize that I am probably having a greater impact from a community standpoint doing what I am doing.
The number one thing that I took away from this past week at ERICA is that I need to get better at improv. I remember reading somewhere that some big business somewhere made all their employees take improv classes as training so that they’d be able to quickly react and adapt and think on their feet, and my experiences interviewing people for my project for ERICA so far has really shown me the value in that.
Going into these interviews, I had clear expectations for how I thought they were going to go. I’d spent a lot of time planning out the questions I was going to ask, had a clear picture of how long they were going to take, and even had some ideas about what I thought the responses were going to be like.
After just one week of interviewing people, I basically scrapped my whole interview plan and started from scratch. Every time I called someone, they all had different things they wanted to talk about in terms of their volunteer experience and they all took the interviews in surprising directions. I really had to think on my feet and improvise and come up with follow up questions on the spot to keep the conversation going. Sometimes it went well and sometimes I ended up stumped and the conversation hit a roadblock. But it was all a fantastic learning experience for me, and there’s no doubt that it keeps my days exciting and very unpredictable.
Last week, I attended Baltimore Data Day and the Keynote Address on workforce transportation the day before. I have a lot of thoughts on these things that I am going to get down, so this may not be the most cohesive blog post.
1. Transportation is such a huge field. People tend to think about things like public transit, planes, and cars when they think of transportation, but there is so much more to it, including (but not limited to) bicycles, walking, and ride-share services (i.e. Uber and Lyft). The biking/walking component is something I’ve been thinking about all summer, but ride-share services were something really introduced into my thoughts on transportation systems by a Lyft representative at the Data Day Keynote Address. I also learned from this guy that Lyft has started to provide public transit recommendations in its app when you enter where you are trying to get. This is crazy! As a for-profit company, it seems so backwards that Lyft would recommend not using Lyft in some cases. The representative pointed to the fact that Lyft’s mission is very people-driven, so it makes sense that they put the passenger first. It is cool to see a corporate giant do something like this.
2. That being said, for-profit companies are limited in some ways, such as in the amount of data they can make public in a capitalist society where they are trying to beat competitors and in making sure they doesn’t publicize private information about their customers. This is frustrating. Ride-sharing companies sharing their data could really help out the transportation industry, as they have such a large ridership and amount of datasets. This feels like an unavoidable problem in the kind of society we live in.
3. Open Baltimore is AWESOME, but it is not implemented in an awesome way. Lots of datasets are outdated, many requested datasets are not provided, there is lack of cohesion in some components of datasets, etc. There is work being done to make it so the system is as good as possible, but it is a huge task. I was happy to hear from good people trying to make it happen at Data Day.
4. There needs to be a shift from people being data subjects to data citizens!!! In the midst of a hectic day, I cannot remember who I heard say this, but shout out to them. Data should be about everything and for the people, not just about the people and for the government/private entities/etc.
5. An open-data policy means that there should not be different government departments getting data that people are not. Even if people are entitled to certain data, it oftentimes does not become reasonably accessible. This is a big problem that is a lot to think about, but again, I learned about and heard from people working to fix this problem. That is refreshing.
Again, I know this is sort of just a collection of thoughts, but I guess a common theme among a lot of these thoughts is that while Baltimore’s public data policy is very easy to scrutinize, it is great that Baltimore has an open-data policy, even if it is flawed (a lot of major cities don’t have anything). Also, there are people devoting their lives to making it better, which is very encouraging to hear. Creating BIG change is very difficult, but there are people in Baltimore trying to make it happen from so many different angles.
Every day I take the time to write in a joint gratitude journal. My friends and I have had the google doc running for years now, and it’s always so rewarding to take a moment every evening to write down what you are thankful for. A lot of my gratitude in the last few weeks has revolved around my spectacular job and my internship with CIIP so I thought for this blog post I would include the things I was thankful for regarding my job this week. (Also I have six Youthworkers but I will refrain from using their names.)
– Having an amazing conversation with one of my YouthWorkers as we were driving to a worksite. Getting to know about his dreams, his life in Baltimore, his politics and his goals.
– Getting to know the two Youthworkers I had had a hard time connecting with. Watching comedy videos, cracking jokes, watching them open up to me.
– One of my YouthWorkers staying past her work time just to chat. Feeling so grateful that she chose to seek advice and council from me.
– One of my YouthWorkers asking me to edit her novel! She is writing a novel! She is spectacular.
– The way in which my entire team works together so well and has gotten to know each other. So many different backgrounds and experiences all united. I am beyond lucky.
– Listening to podcasts and feeling sort of satisfied by the paperwork (debit card sorting for payment) I had to do from literally 8 am to 4 pm.
– Getting to know my co-workers! They are actual adults (wild) but it has been so great talking to all of them, hearing about their families and the hopes they have for this city
– Joking around with my co-workers in the debit card room. Low-key complaining about the monotony of sorting but high-key having a good time
– My boss, who is always incredibly supportive. I hope to be as versatile and composed as him someday.
– Surprise visit from Eli and Kaetlyn! When they asked my YouthWorkers about me, their responses almost make me cry. These folks make me grow so much every day. They test my patience for sure, but they also teach me more than I could have ever hoped.
– The reliability of a good lunch break. Taking time to reflect and reconnect.Tags: 2018, CIIP, CIIP 2018, City Councilperson Ryan Dorsey, City Councilperson Zeke Cohen, Episcopal Refugee and Immigrant Center Alliance, Freestate Justice, Week 5, Youthworks